While things are on fire in the Arab world and the Midwest is a democratic shambles, we here on the West Coast are hardly immune to the storm. In protest of the Republicans’ bill HR-3 (which will redefine rape to refuse women abortions and remove their right to choose as well as cut all federal funding from Planned Parenthood—which provides not only sexual health care but also cancer screening, HIV testing, and primary care for free—to millions of Americans), a Walk for Choice took place today in Santa Cruz simultaneously along with cities all across the nation.
The walk began at the Clock Tower, as such events usually do.
The Clock Tower is central to downtown Santa Cruz; with its benches and fountain, it's a common gathering place, especially for the transient community. It is a significant fixture in the city, a shooting-off point, if you will, and it is not immune to windchill.
The difficult thing about winter in coastal California (and, if you don’t live here, you might be right to laugh at the idea that a coastal Californian winter could be “difficult”), is that we don’t know how to deal with it, and big events tend to take place outside. When you show up somewhere you often don’t know if the event will happen inside or out, and many popular social arrangements demand the outdoors: walks, bonfires, picnics. Protests included.
This week we’ve had rain, but this weekend it got so cold that it actually snowed at sea level.
The snow came in quick, light flurries and melted almost immediately; nonetheless, it indicates how cold it is. And none of us who live hear really know how to deal with it—not having to deal with extreme cold on a regular basis is certainly a big part of the reason why I live here—so when it does get cold like this, no one really knows what to do. We have no infrastructure and virtually no precedent to deal with the atypical weather. So what do we do? We scrounge up our wool sweaters, our thermal underwear, our raincoats, our snow gear, and continue to kick it outside.
When I showed up five minutes before the Walk for Choice was scheduled to begin, the atmosphere was one of friendly camaraderie. The organizers made it clear that it was a walk, not a march, that it would not be militant, and that, above all, it would be peaceful and civil. People, mostly young women but young and older men and women, too, huddled around the Clock Tower, discussing last night’s parties and local politics.
Many came with cardboard signs. Those of us showed up empty-handed were able to make signs with posterboard and Sharpies that some awesome family had brought with them. At the rally there were, of course, the socialist organizers, the representative anarchists, and the engaged university students. There were feminists, dog-walkers, and bicyclists. There were a lot of us. We were enough to take over the streets.
At first I felt kind of bad for blocking traffic, but as we made our way down the main shopping street and up towards the center of town, I registered the action as a unique opportunity. How often does one get to stroll the busiest streets of her city, admiring all the trees in bloom, waiting for the forecasted snow to fall, feeling the sun on her face, and shouting in support of something she believes in? Ultimately, I’m just grateful. Grateful that I have the means to protest, and grateful that what I’m protesting is the potential removal of something necessary and good, and not for lack of having my basic needs met.